24/11/18 Bring me the Head of Brian Cox!

A burning! A Burning! Don’t you just love gathering your pitchforks and torches and laying siege to the castle of the evil…er…floppy haired scientist…?

As I happily strolled around the kingdom of Twitter today I found all kinds of hatred – climaxing in this…

But let’s take a breather…start at the beginning…

Here’s the original interview with the lovely John McDonnell where he lists some of the horrors this Tory government is responsible for – and how he says, although he can work with them whilst keeping a civil tongue in his head, he can never forgive them for what they’ve done to his constituents and the most vulnerable in society.

…and Lordy, it’s hard to argue with him.

Professor Brian Cox came back with this…

As well as the rather robust response above, a number of folk have put their weight behind this blog, in which the writer states (amongst other things)

‘Every Labour member is outraged by his attack on shadow chancellor John McDonnell….’

I’m a labour member, and I’m not outraged…and I certainly don’t think he attacked the shadow chancellor.

One of my concerns here is the Ceiling Effect – what happens when he actually does something really bad, like invading Lichtenstein…?

Will we be even more outrageder? Outragedister?

I believe love, reason and, dare I say it, forgiveness are the weapons that are going to win this war.

You’re not buying it?

Indulge me – stay with me (and a few guests) right to the bottom of the page…

We’re bobbing around in a world of confirmation bias.

We hang out with/ follow and are followed by people we agree with people who share our ideals and values.

So when someone comes along with a statement we disagree with – God do we feel it! No matter how much we try to engage our brains, our first response is visceral.

And why shouldn’t it be?

Take another listen to John McDonnell’s interview – the harm this Tory government has inflicted on our most vulnerable people is horrific.

Since the beginning of austerity, the British Medical Journal tells us that over 120 thousand people have died prematurely because of that policy.

Shelter tell us that there are now more than 320 thousand people homeless, that’s the population of Newcastle, many of whom can hold up Universal (Bastard) Credit as the primary cause of their difficulties…

At the same time we see the wealthiest people receiving massive tax breaks – for example Denise Coates, the founder of Bet365 who awarded herself £265 million last year, would have paid nearly £40 million more in tax had the rates from the 1980s been in place today.

The back stabbing and political chicanery we’ve seen with this government over the past 8 years would have been edited out of Game of Thrones for being too far fetched.

In my opinion, this has been by far the worst U.K. government in my 53 years on the planet.

And I’m furious!

My anger, although incredibly energising, isn’t about to change anything.

I was worried that John McDonnell’s anger at the parliamentary Tory party would be conflated with your average Tory in the street. Looking again at the vitriol fired at Brian Cox, it’s clear that’s a horse that bolted some time ago.

So how will we get folk to vote with us? How do we say, ‘C’mon in, the water’s lovely,’ without them thinking, ‘Fuck off, I know it’s swarming with piranha..’?

We greet folk from ‘the other side’ who say things that might suggest they agree with us with the less than welcoming phrase, ‘Fuck off, hypocrite!’

We fail to consider they’ve been immersed in their own world of crazy Corbyn, skivers and strivers, a world of confirmation bias fed to them by the usual suspects from the right wing press.

I really don’t know why people would vote conservative – but I’m guessing a lot of it’s down to visceral fear and prejudice.

We need to question, listen and raise awareness without calling folk who don’t share our beliefs, a bunch of fucking cockwombles.

And before you start patting yourself on the back for your lack of prejudice…consider what goes on in your mind when you think of a Conservative. How much of that is fact, and how much is prejudice driven fiction?

Jacinda Ardern, the New Zealand Prime Minister, tells us it’s time to move on from the Westminster, combative model of government.

She says it takes strength to be an empathetic leader…

Forgiveness is a continuum. I think it’s a philosophy many of us can try out when we consider all kinds of situations. I’m not saying it’s the solution to all our conflicts, but reading , ‘The Forgiveness Project : Stories for a Vengeful Age’ is well worth a few hours of anyone’s time.

I don’t agree with Brian Cox’s tweet – Initially I did – then I did some background reading and listening- and now I don’t.

The suggestion that JD is looking for a ‘One Party State’ wasn’t terribly well thought through, and pretty divisive for that matter.

By distancing himself from Tories, John McDonnell is definitely not calling for a single party solution as the professor suggested in his tweet.

That said, I certainly don’t think the professor is the Tory sympathiser or BBC puppet many parts of Twitter tells us he is…

At the same time, although I understand John McDonnell’s statement about not forgiving Tories for the destructive shitstorm they’ve rained down on our people, I don’t think that’s the best way ahead.

Although I don’t think me and Esther McVey will be picking curtains any time soon….

You might agree with me…you might not…but let me leave you with a few quotes from some pretty magnificent folk from our recent history.

Read them, and then tell me I’m wrong…

‘Let no man Pull you low enough to hate him’ Martin Luther King Jnr

‘We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than the things that divide us’

Jo Cox

‘As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.’

Nelson Mandela

Walk a Mile

Chris

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22/11/18 Blind Prejudice?

The other day I experienced that visceral, gut reaction that only anger driven by prejudice can provide.

Last year, Denise Coates, the founder of Bet365, paid herself £265 million…

I hold my hands up – I felt rage, disgust, weirdly a bit of embarrassment, and that’s before I even started looking at the facts of the story.

We all discriminate – me, you…yes, even you, Dalai Llama…it’s a superpower we all share.

I was angry at her – I still am, if I’m honest…and I’ve never met the woman…although I understand she speaks very highly of me…er…

But let’s get behind my blind prejudice…let’s take a breath for a moment…

If she’d earned this in the ‘80’s, when the top rate of tax was 60%, then she’d have been taxed, give or take, £159,000,000, leaving her with a paltry £106 million to scrape through.

Imagine?!

Because she was taxed today, with the top rate now at 45%, she’d have been taxed £119,250,000

As a result of these political decisions since the 1980’s, she has been awarded £39,750,000 in tax cuts.

That’s nearly £40 million more that could have gone towards schools, hospitals, bloody social workers and the like.

Ah now…but you see, if you tax the wealthy too much, they just can’t help themselves, they have to manufacture new and improved ways of avoiding tax…the system is fair just now, and that’s why people happily pay their taxes.

If we charge too much in tax, we’ll just have to employ more folk at HMRC – imagine the cost?

Er…staffing levels and resources have been cut by 17% since 2010…perhaps we could make a start by replacing them?

If we could scrape back some of that £120 billion, it’s a hit I’m willing to take.

Even the more conservative estimates of HMRC put tax evasion at £4.4 billion and tax avoidance at £2.7 billion with a guesstimate that somehow HMRC fails to collect around £34 billion a year…I’m guessing that the extra £27 billion is slipping through the net because of lack of staff…?

So people are already avoiding/ evading taxes….perhaps if we employ a few more tax dudes…maybe…just maybe…?

But what does this all mean?

In brief, the welfare state has been dessimated, with poor and vulnerable people being vilified for their ‘something for nothing’ attitudes to life…

People who, when they rightfully expect the safety net to be there, find they have to wait for weeks, months, in extreme cases, years for their Universal (Bastard) credit to come through.

This leaves them vulnerable to the vagaries of payday loan sharks – leaving people in spiralling debt from which it’s almost impossible to recover.

But don’t just take my word for it, here’s what the UN’s Rapporteur into Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Philip Aston has to say about the current treatment of our most vulnerable people in the U.K.

I urge you to take a look st his interim report here…

This is a humanitarian crisis of our own making.

Over the past few years we’ve had massive cuts in health and social care,

The independent living fund that supported folk with disabilities to live more independent lives has gone…

Sure start – a scheme supporting families in poverty – has been cut almost into extinction

Remploy – an organisation to support the millions of folk with disabilities who want to work is a mere shadow of it’s former self

Shelter tell us that 300 thousand people are homeless in the U.K. – that’s the population of Newcastle

The use of food banks has grown exponentially – not because of ‘complex reasons’ but because people are in absolute poverty. The support they offer is just a drop in the ocean, when you consider people can only get help from them 3 times a year.

I speak regularly to people who have nothing…they’re not making the decision whether to heat their homes or to eat – they can do neither.

Legal aid for people contesting shonky decisions by the department for work and pensions has all but gone…

But we’ve got near full employment – work is the best way out of poverty…

Sure, we’ve got full employment when the ONS counts people working ONE HOUR A WEEK as employed!

It’s all this that’s behind my anger. Does Denise Coates deserve to be the centre of my vitriol? If I’m honest, probably not…she’s just the product of a system that nurtures this…whatever it is.

I do know that the cost to our most vulnerable people as massive…people who argue otherwise – they’re either ignorant or liars. I’ll let you decide.

It can’t go on.

Walk a Mile

Chris

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19/11/18 International Men’s day – on the subject of toxic masculinity

Your masculinity is toxic…

Go on, try it for size…

Ok, perhaps have a shot at toxic femininity.

What reaction does that instil in you?

The reason I’m raising this is that I’ve seen a whole bunch of punch ups across social media today – on this, international men’s day.

We’ve had men and women reminding us that crying and showing our emotions is a good thing.

We have some men coming back – often aggressively – with claims that they – we – are being emasculated by these claims.

There then follows the usual, tit for tatting, vitriolic, polarising war that (anti) social media knows so very well.

Before I go any further, I think it’s important to declare that my allegiance is very much with the ‘it’s important we talk about stuff’ camp, especially given the fact that men in the U.K. are 3x more likely to take their own lives than women – and that suicide is the biggest killer of men under 50.

But…have I, we, you perhaps, made it all a bit too simple?

Men don’t talk about emotional stuff – psychological pressure builds…raising the risk of suicidal ideation and acts?

The end…?

But this doesn’t seem to take account of the blue toys vs pink toys, action man, blow the shit out of stuff, boys will be boys indoctrination that I and the vast majority of other men were brought up in.

For fuck’s sake, we still have Royal Navy adverts that declare, ‘I was born in Carlisle but I was made (implication ‘into a man’)in the Royal Navy’

These are core beliefs drilled into us during our formative years.

Before you declare your immunity to this kind of shit, take some time to have a think.

I did, and I’ve got to hold my hands up to feeling a childhood excitement when the ‘The holidays are coming…’ Coca Cola adverts hit our screens, with the hope that, maybe this year I’ll see the big red lorry.

I was brought up in a world where aggression – not just anger – was rewarded with kudos…for this and more complex reasons, I fought my way through my childhood into my early 20’s.

I played a lot of sport to dilute these feelings – but they were still there..

Looking back, I’m more than happy to accept the label of ‘bellend’ er, sorry, toxically masculine – but what does that mean?

It means a handbreak turn in years of socialisation – and, more importantly, it means cognitive dissonance, which, as anyone who’s had even a dalliance with psychology knows, is the road to lunacy.

There are folk out there who’re suggesting that it’s not our inability to talk about emotional stuff, but this cognitive dissonance that leads to more suicidal thoughts and behaviours in your male of the species.

Imagine being brought up being told you had to behave one way, only to be told that was wrong?

Cognitively, I find it very easy to make the case that talking about our feelings is a good thing…emotionally though, I can still fall foul of that (toxic?) masculinity that washes over me when Ella tells me she loves my big shoulders (somehow ignoring my ample belly) and how she feels safe with me…

This is nowhere near as black and white as I’d like it to be…I appreciate there’s much about the masculinity we’ve had drilled into us in the past that’s harmful…and let’s not pretend this brainwashing is a thing of the past – type ‘masculine’ into your google device – then follow that up with ‘antonym’

I did, and I was equally surprised and disappointed to read ‘weak’, ‘timid’, ‘feminine’ and ‘effeminate’ right at the top of that list.

We don’t exist in a vacuum.

I know the, ‘Man up’ rhetoric is harmful to millions of men and women across our fine country, but we need to tread warily when we talk about toxic masculinity.

For many, their masculinity is their identity, and so, if you call their masculinity toxic then…

There’s more to this than a 280 character tweet, or a smart arse blog, can cover…if we truly want to change things we need to ask and listen. Even when we don’t like the answers…we need to listen…

I could take you back to those feelings I experienced when testosterone first coursed through my veins – but that’s enough for now…

Walk a Mile

Chris

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17/11/18 Walk A Mile – Remember, I’m doing this so you don’t have to…

Oh my good lord! It’s November in the U.K. – well, in Wales – and look at the beauty of this particular chunk of our island!

In amongst all the splendid scenery, I’m kind of feeling my way back into the Walk a Mile gig.

After waving the WAM flag at the world of social media – trying to tempt folk into joining me for a bit of a ramble with the promise of my book – signed, no less, if they greeted me with an enthusiastic ‘Walk a Mile!’

However, you can tell from the early pics, there were no walkamilers to join me as I walked off to enjoy some of the most stunning scenery I’ve had on my rambles.

I crossed the Traeth Bach estuary on a raised bit of road/ path that’s referred to locally as the Cob. My pictures hardly do it justice – it’s gorgeous – it’s all lovely – stop what you’re doing now and get yourself along here…

I met some folk and had some chats on my way – I met Jacqui and Colin on my way to Portmeirion – a place that’s possibly more bonkers than I am…but I’m getting ahead of myself…

I told them what I was about – we had a bit of a chat about stuff – then Jacqui told me about a couple of her sons friends back in Devon – young men – who’d taken their own lives.

It seems there are very few of us now who aren’t touched by this shocking sadness – both cases were a complete surprise, Jacqui told me, made even more unfathomable her belief there was help at hand – if only they’d just reached out.

I wonder…

They told me to give them a call when I passed near Paignton. Jacqui popped into a nearby shop – Colin and I talked about ‘The Prisoner’ (the ‘60’s TV programme with Patrick McGoohan – what?? Who??? Ask your (grand) parents!)

As I went to leave, it felt there was a lot left unsaid as Colin patted then squeezed my shoulder in a rather lovely reaching out kind of a way…

I don’t know what we didn’t say – but I’m sure there was more to be had there…

The lovely woman at the gate of Portmeirion who hailed from Lanarkshire – delighted at my kilt -allowed me to blag my way in (it’s normally £8!) I left her a signed book as I left – I hope she’s time to read it.

Portmeirion is bonkers! I’m not entirely sure if it’s worth the £8 entry fee – but here’s a flavour of it…

Beautiful though the day was, there’s a distinct end of season feeling about this beautiful place. I might be making this up, but it reminded me a bit of the East Neuk of Fife where a massive percentage of the properties were holiday homes and the local population seem to have just evaporated. It might just be me, but it left me feeling a little sad.

A big, smiling guy, Ben, walked up as his friends looked on – he wanted to know what I was about with my kilt and big yellow trailer – he lapped up everything Walk a Mile – it was lovely to have that contact…that interest…

Walk a Mile is back on the road, and I think folk are ready to talk.

Walk A Mile

Chris

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15/11/18 Walk a Mile returns to Porthmadog

What are you doing on Saturday 17/11/18 at 10am?

Nothing, you say?

If you’re in and around Porthmadog in North Wales, you can join me for the first, gentle ramble, in this the next step of Walk a Mile in My Shoes.

I’m a middle aged man, carrying more weight than I’d like, with a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder, walking around the edge of the U.K. to highlight the experience of people with mental health problems – many of whom feel they’re on the edge of society.

The story isn’t about me, or the walk…

It’s about the conversations I’ll be having with the people I meet on the way.

It’s all about the talk.

In the 1960’s the Jain Monk, Satish Kumar started a peace march to challenge the proliferation of nuclear arms.

Following the advice of his guru, he took no money with him to ensure he was motivated to talk to people at the end of the day.

I thought if this wonderful man could walk from India to Pakistan – expect and receive great hospitality from the people he met on his way – when the 2 countries were at war, then I should expect the same from the people of the U.K.

So far I’ve walked around 4500 miles, anti-clockwise around the coast from Edinburgh to Porthmadog in North Wales with no money and, so far, people have been 100% fabulous.

Over the past 4 years I’ve been involved in a number of mental health campaigns, including writing the book, ‘Walk a Mile: Tales of a Wandering Loon’, that took me away from the sacred ramble.

Much has happened in the U.K. since then – a great deal of which feels divisive.

So, what am I returning to?

Will the fine people who inhabit our lovely island continue to be fabulous or will I be met with mistrust?

Will folk be less hospitable?

Are we as divided as mainstream and social media would suggest?

The simple answer is NO

You’re going to be every bit as brilliant as before.

Once again not only will I be collecting your stories for the next book in the Walk a Mile series – this time we’ll be keeping the conversation going with the all new podcast, available wherever you get your podcasts

I want you to be part of the conversation.

We’ll be meeting up at the Llyn Bach – carpark in Porthmadog at 10am – postcode LL49 9DD

The first person to meet me with the traditional WAM greeting, ‘Walk a Mile’ will get themselves a free, signed copy of my book.

Walk a Mile

Chris

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28/10/18 #DoctorsAreDickheads

Ok, I’ll just read that again

#DoctorsAreDickheads

Not #SomeDoctorsAreDickheads

The implication being….?

Hmmm…?

Do you know, one of the things I love about attracting a diagnosis of #BorderlinePersonalityDisorder is when I’m told that people in the same boat as me are manipulative…dishonest…attention seeking…drama queens…

When I have the audacity to say, ‘Hey, wait a cotton-pickin’ minute…’ folk will tell me, with a straight face, ‘We’re not talking about you…it’s the others who are the problem…’

That’s alright then…by which I mean,

NO IT ISN’T!

Meanwhile, back at the hashtag…

#DoctorsAreDickheads

It scans well…it’s got a kind of alliterative rhythm to it, hasn’t it?

And that’s where, in my opinion, it’s merits end.

Whoever came up with this has created a false dichotomy – a weird world where doctors aren’t patients. The real world isn’t that convenient though – where your average physician has a higher rate of suicide ( 4x as many if you’re a female doctor) than the your average folk in the street.

There seems to be a consensus here that doctors are impervious to insults – er…I’d love to see the data that supports that…

….that somehow their perceived privilege protects them against this barrage of discrimination – for that’s what it is when you pile a whole group of people together, holding them responsible for the misdeeds of some of their peers – that somehow they don’t feel it…

Whatever happened to separating the person from their actions? In this case a doctor’s deeds might warrant the label ‘Dickish’, ‘shite’, or ‘ludicrous’…

I’ve had doctors that have done and/ or said things that have been damaging to me…

Probably the worst is lumbering me with the label ‘Borderline Personality Disorder’ an insult awarded to me as a result of childhood abuse…with no acknowledgement of trauma…would it really kill them to call this clutch of symptoms, ‘Complex post traumatic Stress syndrome’ or something similar…?

I’ve had a psychiatrist that’s told me to keep away from a peer support group of people with the same cluster of symptoms as me, declaring I must keep away from them because, ‘these are very sick people!’ ; I’ve had more than one GP suggesting that I turn to God!?

Dickheads? Well, no…ill thought out, potentially damaging, embarrassing behaviour…

I’ve had a psychotherapist who told me my self harm wasn’t, ‘…terribly bright…’

I’ve got to admit he found himself careering very close to the heady title of Cockwomble…but even he helped a little in my head management. I wouldn’t consider the word, ‘Recovery’ since it’s been ambushed by the Department of Work and Pensions in an ‘Arbeit Mach Frei’ stylie. Take a look at Recovery in the Bin’s ‘Unrecovery Star’ that challenges the mainstream rhetoric really well.

I digress…

What do folk want to achieve with the #DoctorsAreDickheads hashtag?

If we’re hoping to affect change, I can’t say calling folk dickheads is a great way to do it.

Is it meant to raise awareness – as some kind of educational tool? Are we hoping that doctors will suddenly reach some kind of enlightenment by calling them names?

Some might argue that less powerful folk can’t discriminate against more, seemingly powerful, privileged (there’s that word again) people. For me, that argument fails – as soon as you lump everyone in a group together – tarring them with the same, convenient, on the surface, hateful brush, then that’s prejudice.

The hashtag seems to ignore too the fucking car crash that the NHS is becoming because of swingeing cuts…

I’m not about to be an apologist for shit behaviour – but if you squeeze people enough, then they’re going to start acting strangely.

Where’s the acknowledgment that health professionals are working in increasingly impossible environments?

Am I somehow empowered by the #DoctorsAreDickheads campaign?

Well, no. I’m sure rallying a group of people against a common enemy can galvanise solidarity. But to what end?

This is my opinion. I might be wrong – I’ve been wrong in the past – but this twitter rumble isn’t the way I see the world.

The situation is shit. But as professionals and punters we really are all in this together. I think our collective voices would have a greater impact…but hey, that’s me.

This doesn’t prevent us from calling out bad practice – surely engagement will always be more effective than name calling?

Walk a Mile

Chris

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28/09/18 U.K. to host Global Ministerial Mental Health Summit on World Mental Health Day

Are you taking the fucking piss? This is like the child catcher out of Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang chairing a summit on best child care practices.

This is the same Government who’ve reduced the number of beds in psychiatric hospitals by nearly 30% since the beginning of austerity.

….where we have 12% fewer mental health nurses than we had in 2009 with nearly 1700 vacancies in England alone.

….where we appear to be imprisoning our most vulnerable people instead of supporting them

‘Rates of self-inflicted deaths and self-harm in prison have risen significantly in the last five years, suggesting that mental health and well-being in prison has declined. Self-harm rose by 73% between 2012 and 2016. In 2016 there were 40,161 incidents of self-harm in prisons, the equivalent of one incident for every two prisoners. While in 2016 there were 120 self-inflicted deaths in prison, almost twice the number in 2012, and the highest year on record. Government needs to address the rising rates of suicide and self harm in prisons as a matter of urgency.’

Any claims of mental health improvements in prisons need to be taken with a massive pinch of salt according to the National Audit Office…

‘Government does not know how many people in prison have a mental illness, how much it is spending on mental health in prisons or whether it is achieving its objectives. It is therefore hard to see how Government can be achieving value for money in its efforts to improve the mental health and well being of prisoners’

While MP’s celebrate the gig economy, we know that zero hour contracts are bad for people’s health – especially their mental health…

This is having a particularly massive effect on our younger people. You know, the people we call ‘Snowflakes’. The same generation whose suicide rate has increased by 107% in London and 24% in the rest of England and Wales.

Where we’ve removed hopeful futures from our young people with spiralling student debts (around £60k for your average degree) and house prices exceeding 8 times the average salary.

Having already removed most of the safety net, the government has whipped away any hopes of a soft landing with its flagship – if your flagship is the fucking titanic – Universal (Bastard) Credit – benefit regime, where people have to wait 35 days for ANY payment – (try it – in the past, people on benefits had to choose between heating or eating – now they can do neither) with disability benefits that are particularly difficult for people with mental health problems to obtain…

Just in case you become complacent – the Department of Work and Pensions has its secret weapon – The Benefit Sanction – where people with mental health problems are hugely over represented – where you can have you benefits stopped for anything between 3 weeks and….drum roll…3 years for having the audacity to fail to complete a form correctly or for missing an appointment. The DWP already know these people often have massive difficulties in dealing with day to day stuff…because they’ve already received the War and Peace-esque application forms that explain peoples situations in minute detail.

Instead of getting in touch – the DWP display their care and compassion through the medium of stopping someone’s money for an unspecified time.

You don’t just have to take my word for it. A UN Panel has criticised the UK for it’s failure to uphold disabled people’s rights.

Unless the summit on world mental health day (10th of October…did I mention my belief that every day should be world mental health day?) involves our government declaring they’ve created an astonishingly comprehensive shitstorm for people with mental health problems in the U.K. and how they’re going to change things immediately, then a boycott across the board sounds like a rather splendid idea.

Walk a Mile

Chris

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